Review: the MacBook Pro is a powerhouse workhorse (at thoroughbred pricing)

At one point I thought that the perfect combination of Apple computing gear was a 5K iMac for most of my work and a 12.9-inch iPad Pro as my “back-up” Mac and laptop replacement for the few times I’m traveling. And, indeed, this does work most of the time, at least for me. But for a lot of folks the best set-up could easily be a new 15-inch MacBook Pro coupled with a 27-inch LG Ultrafine 5K display.

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The 12.9-inch iPad Pro worked well as long as I was only doing some light blogging while on the road. However, for longer trips where I tried to keep up my daily Apple World Today chores, it simply fell short due to a lack of mouse support, features missing in the iOS version of the Slack app, a more awkward way of posting graphics in articles, and more. 

Though the LG UltraFine is butt ugly compared to Apple’s late, lamented Thunderbolt Display, combining it with a new MacBook Pro will, for many, be the best of two worlds. The combo makes a great “desktop” set-up, while the laptop alone has plenty of power and screen real estate to make working easy in a hotel room (though NOT on an airplane; it’s just too big).

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I’ve been test driving a 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 500GB SSD, 32GB/2.9GHz processor, and 560X with 4GB video display, and it’s truly a sweet machine. As it should be since it will put around a $3,200 dent in your bank account. However, with all its features, it’s “future proofed” enough that the cost can be justified for creative pros and, well, anyone who wants the latest, greatest Mac hardware.

The display itself will be the prime draw for many. It’s a 15.4-inch Retina display with 2880x1800 resolution,  P3 color gamut, and 500 nits of brightness. It’s the same as the previous model, but with one big difference: it incorporates True Tone technology. True Tone ensures that colors on the screen remain consistent by adjusting to the ambient lighting of a room. 

For example, when you’re inside in a warm lighting environment, the display in the previous generation MacBook Pro made whites look blue and harsh; the 2018 screen is warm. Head outside and the screen gives whites a natural daylight tint. If you have an iPad Pro, iPhone X, or iPhone 8, you can try out True Tone to see if you like it. If you don’t, you can disable it in the MacBook Pro’s settings.

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One pleasant surprise with the new MacBook Pros is that True Tone “carries over” to some external displays as long as you leave the lid of the laptop open. In a support document, Apple noted that this works on LG’s Ultrafine monitors, as well as the Apple’s last display, the Thunderbolt Display from 2011. The latter only works when connected with Apple's Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter.

Also, Apple’s OLED Touch Bar — love it or hate it — also gets True Tone technology, though it’s less noticeable than on the big display. 

The MacBook Pro is more than powerful enough for my daily work as a writer/blogger. With enhanced Radeon graphics and eighth gen Coffee Lake processors from Intel (supporting up to a  Core i9), it’s much more robust than last year’s models. On Geekbench 4 testing, it earned a score of 22,815, almost doubling the premium laptop average (11,678). 

According to Geekbench 4’s CPU test, the 2018 MacBook Pro posted a 64-bit Multi-Core CPU Test score of 23140, the highest score ever for a MacBook Pro. That’s a 44% increase over the 2017 MacBook Pro. 

And the MacBook Pro’s SSD is screamingly fast. One of the reasons is the T2 processor, which acts as the SSD controller. For example, it lets the laptop “listen” for the “Hey Siri” command to summon Apple’s personal digital assistant and use it as you would with an iPad and iPhone. What’s more, the T2 chip serves as the SSD controller and uses Apple’s secure enclave for encryption and secure booting.

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Another reason for the speed is the Apple File System (APFS) introduced with macOS High Sierra. APFS creates “clones” of files when it copies, which requires less data and points back to the original file. Also, Apple switched from DDR3 RAM in previous MacBook Pros to DDR4 RAM in the new models.

The battery on the MacBook Pro will last a full workday (plus change) on a single charge. It ran for about 10 hours on a day when I had Pages, Safari, Mail, Calendar, Slack, Photos, Pixelmator Pro, and iTunes all open and songs playing in the background.

The controversial butterfly keyboard is still a “love it or hate it” thing, though I like it well enough. Apple claims the keyboard is quieter, though, honestly, I could tell little, if any difference while typing. iFixIt’s teardown of the MacBook Pro showed silicone membranes beneath the switches. Apple isn’t saying anything official, it’s possible that those could protect the keyboards from dust and debris, something that plagued MacBooks and MacBooks Pros released in 2016 and 2017.

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The 15-inch MacBook Pro still relies on four full speed (40Gbps )Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports for connectivity. This works fine for me, but many folks find it too limiting. If so, you’ll have to fork out extra moolah to buy hubs and adapters for connecting things like USB-A devices. The only other port on the new laptop is a headphone jack.

Finally, the speakers pump out a lot of volume without distortion, considering how svelte the laptop is. (It’s four pounds and measures 13.8 x 9.5 x 0.6 inches).

I do have some complaints about the 2018 MacBook Pro; mainly, Apple’s upgrades options are too expensive. This is doubly irritating as the company has made it impossible to add third party RAM.

Also, why only a 720 FaceTime display? The iMac Pro has a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, as does the iPad Pro.

Although it could be better, if you only want one Mac in your life, the 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro is a workhorse. Combine it with an external display and you have the best of both desktop and laptop worlds.

Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★